Historical archive

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik

Speech at EPP Congress

Historical archive

Published under: Bondevik's 2nd Government

Publisher The Office of the Prime Minister

Brussels, 5 February 2004

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik

Speech at European Peoples' Party Congress

Brussels, 5 February 2004

Excellencies,

Colleagues and friends,

Ladies and gentlemen,

After a lot of hard work, we are about to reach two very important goals: the enlargement of the EU and the enlargement of NATO. Our vision is a peaceful and safe Europe for all. A Europe based on our common Christian and humanist heritage. A Europe based on respect for human dignity and human rights, compassion for our fellow human beings and sound stewardship.

As one of the wealthier countries in Europe, Norway wants to contribute to this historic enlargement of the European Union. We have a clear responsibility to do so, and we are contributing together with our partners in EFTA, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Together we will allocate more than 233 million Euro per year to promote social and economic cohesion in Europe. More than 97 per cent of the contribution will come from Norway. This is ten times as much as our present contribution. Norway will be contributing more on a per capita basis to the ten acceding states than any other EU or EFTA/EEA country.

Based on the priorities of individual countries, the funds will be used for environmental measures, conservation of the European cultural heritage, education, research and health. Funds provided directly from Norway will be used for strengthening the judiciary, promoting regional co-operation and technical assistance with the implementation of EEA legislation.

Europe is changing, and the threats posed by the Cold War have lost their force. But now we are facing grave new threats from terrorism and the uncontrolled spread of weapons of mass destruction.

These are threats that can only be met effectively if we stand united. All of us present here today are part of a global coalition working relentlessly to fight terrorism. We are doing so through the military and the police, and we are doing so in the financial arena and by legislation.

I believe that by shedding new light on the roots of terror, we can develop more effective and long-term measures to fight terrorism. That is why I organised an international conference on the roots of terrorism in New York last year, together with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, which was attended by more than twenty heads of state and government.

As a follow-up to the conference, I am currently focusing on the need to foster greater understanding between religions and on the promotion of tolerance through education and the engagement of civil society.

In many conflict-ridden parts of the world religion is considered to be part of the problem. In my view, it should become part of the solution.

History has shown us that nations and cultures are interdependent and constantly subject to change. A uniform society cannot endure. And change and development – and peace – require tolerance and the exchange of ideas, goods and people.

Communities of faith should not seek God in order to strengthen their earthly power. We must not allow religion to be misused for political purposes. Harmonious relations between religions do not in themselves resolve conflicts, but they can pave the way for lasting and peaceful political solutions. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of all religious communities to strengthen the processes of healing and reconciliation in their society.

Within Islam and within Christianity, and between the two religions, we need frameworks for dialogue and co-operation. We must be very aware of the image of ourselves we want to project to the Muslim world. We want to be partners, not opponents.

As government leaders, we must take responsibility for helping to build bridges between the different faiths. We must take responsibility for building a climate of trust. This is an important challenge in the new century.

The international efforts to promote dialogue between religions must be intensified and co-ordinated. This must be our strategy for meeting the challenges we face and for dealing with the potential for conflict that lies in the relations between the West and the Muslim world, especially the Middle East and the countries of the Gulf.

We must build trust through dialogue and mutual respect, through tolerance and acceptance.

Promoting sound values is especially important in our schools. Schools must foster tolerance and understanding. They must be a means of combating hatred and fear of those who are different. At school children must learn compassion and consideration for others. They must feel safe from harassment.

I do not share the fears of those who claim that the conflicts we see in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and the Middle East are examples of a “clash of civilisations”. In my opinion, they are neither wars of religion nor signs of a general clash between the Christian West and the Muslim Orient.

The Muslims in Europe and the Americas and the Oriental Christians are all valuable citizens of the societies and countries they live in. They represent a unique resource for building bridges between different cultures and religions.

As far back as the Middle Ages, goods and, not least, ideas and knowledge crossed the divide between the Christian West and the Islamic Orient.

History has shown that those communities in our part of the world that were most willing to learn from others have developed most rapidly. This is an important lesson, a lesson to build our future on.

People with a clear system of values of their own find it easier to understand and respect the convictions of others. Europe can be proud of its Christian and humanist heritage. And the EPP is the best European political movement to keep these ideals alive.